Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Alcohol and Health

Many studies in recent years purport to show that moderate alcohol consumption is beneficial to your health. Here's the latest:
Moderate drinking may lengthen your life, while too much may shorten it, researchers from Italy report. Their conclusion is based on pooled data from 34 large studies involving more than one million people and 94,000 deaths.

According to the data, drinking a moderate amount of alcohol -- up to four drinks per day in men and two drinks per day in women -- reduces the risk of death from any cause by roughly 18 percent, the team reports in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

No offense to the scientists involved, who I'm sure spent a great deal of time on this, but I'm not convinced. I have no doubt they found a correlation between moderate alcohol consumption and longer lives. But correlation is not causation, and causation is much more complicated. If people who don't drink alcohol are drinking soda instead, then sure, the results make sense. Wine is better than Coke. But I have a hard time believing that beer is better than water and juice.

It may be that the press has mis-reported the findings a bit. According to the abstract of the article:
Low levels of alcohol intake (1-2 drinks per day for women and 2-4 drinks per day for men) are inversely associated with total mortality in both men and women. Our findings, while confirming the hazards of excess drinking, indicate potential windows of alcohol intake that may confer a net beneficial effect of moderate drinking, at least in terms of survival.

They refer there to an association rather than causation.

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